International Women's Day: Celebrating the increased participation of women in waste management

In the Pacific region, the tide is turning when it comes to the participation of women in waste management. Historically, the solid and hazardous waste management sector has been dominated by men but recent evidence would suggest that female participation is increasing.

The Pacific Hazardous Waste Management project (PacWaste) – a partnership between the European Union and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) – is at the heart of those efforts.

European Union Ambassador for the Pacific, Mr Andrew Jacobs, believes that the increased participation and consideration of women in waste management is something to celebrate:

"On the occasion of International Women's Day, the European Union recognises the impact that gender plays in waste management. It is my belief that the increased participation of women in the planning and implementation of waste management projects will ensure better, and more meaningful, outcomes for all members of the community."

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While poor waste management and disposal practices impact negatively on all members of the community, the burden of poor waste management falls most heavily on women and children. Photo: E.Vanderburg/SPREP

Ms Fiasosoitamalii Siaosi works as Principal Chemical and Hazardous Waste Officer at Samoa's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE). Ms Siaosi says that at a November 2015 regional meeting of the PacWaste project, the fact that more than half of participants were women was a hot topic of conversation:

"Everywhere we travelled people commented on the large number of women present at the meeting. It was really good to see that people had previously noticed how few women were involved in the sector, and the fact that they were celebrating our increased participation."

Ms Ileana Miritescu, Programme Manager, Infrastructure and Natural Resources at the European Union Delegation for the Pacific explains why this participation is important.

"A cleaner and safer environment is in everybody's best interest. But when it comes to waste management it's crucial to acknowledge that women and men may have very different views of what waste is, what methods of disposal are the most desirable or affordable, and how improvements to waste management can be best achieved. When the voices of women are heard and taken into consideration, waste management initiatives are more likely to meet everyone's needs.''

Since its inception in 2013, the PacWaste project has sought to consider the attitudes and needs of women in the project design and implementation process.

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In the Pacific region, the increased participation of women in the waste management sector is paying dividends. Photo: D.Haynes/SPREP

SPREP's PacWaste Project Officer, Ms Elizabeth Vanderburg, who has been closely involved in the healthcare waste management component of the project, says that the healthcare waste sector in the Pacific region is still strongly characterised by a gendered division of labour. In a hospital and health clinic setting, women are still largely engaged in patient care and are, therefore, at the centre of waste generation. By contrast, men are overwhelmingly responsible for the disposal and treatment of this waste – through incineration or other means. Ms Vanderburg continues:

"A key success of the PacWaste healthcare waste management training has been to bring men and women together to share experiences, understand their different roles in the waste management process and devise solutions that are both gender and location appropriate."

The atoll waste management component of the PacWaste project, taking place in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, has sought to integrate women's experience of waste into project design as well as implementation.

At the earliest stages of planning, the local women's NGO, Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), was engaged to undertake atoll wide survey on household waste disposal practices.

Ms Amber Carvan, SPREP's PacWaste Communications Officer, explains that when the new sustainable waste management initiatives are rolled out in Majuro later this year, special efforts will be made to ensure that women are closely involved in the development of campaign messaging:

"When it comes to behaviour change, messages are more effective when they're tailored to specific audiences. Given the fact that women and men tend to have such a different experience of waste, this gendered messaging is essential to the success of the project, particularly for the uptake of pre-paid bags and new recycling initiatives."

PacWaste is a €7.85 million, four year project funded by the European Union and implemented by SPREP to improve regional hazardous waste management across the Pacific. For more information about PacWaste, please visit www.sprep.org/pacwaste

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. For more information visit: www.internationalwomensday.com

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